Thoughts on Burgers

The trend in Pittsburgh food lately has been restaurants with single word names. Here’s a no-doubt incomplete list: Legume, Toast!, Spoon, Elements, Habitat, Salt, Notion, BRGR and Burgatory. These last two play to another recent trend: fancy burger joints. I see this as a good opportunity to pontificate about about burgers and burger places. To my mind there are three things you want in a burger place. I will list them here in order of importance: 1. Read On →

Fool's Mate

I’ve never been any good at chess. This has always bothered me, on some level, and I dealt with it in what I consider to be a very mature and appropriate way: I’ve pretty much avoided playing chess for 35 years. There are good reasons to avoid chess if you’re not good at it: there’s no randomness, and both sides start evenly, so when you lose, you have no one to blame but yourself. Read On →

Portal 2

Portal 2 had a lot to live up to. Four years ago Portal started as a free short add-in to The Orange Box and turned out to be by far the best game in the entire collection. Now Portal 2 has struck out on its own, in its own box and at nearly full price. DId going solo ruin the magic? Or was Valve able to score again? Well, it turns out that to me it’s a bit of both. Read On →

Tinkering With the Stars 3: The Mount

It clouded over in my yard, so I’m writing this instead of fiddling with my telescope. Aren’t you lucky. Previously in our series we bought a telescope. Then we bought a magic video camera that can seemingly do the impossible. Clearly our dork hero should have been satisfied with this. But all was not quite perfect. First, some background. As I mentioned before, the Mallincam is a device that is something of a hybrid. Read On →

Star Tinkering Part 2: A Mallincam Tutorial

In our previous installment I chronicled, in horrific detail, the steps I took to gently re- enter the world of astronomical observation. At the end of the episode, our dorky hero had become proficient with the modern telescope and its associated tools. Having gained this comfort with the tools, I took the next step and ordered my camera. Having received the camera and used it for a while, I thought I’d try to fill a small hole in the Mallincam literature: the lack of a comprehensive tutorial. Read On →

Tinkering with the Stars

Anybody who knows me knows that I am not a tinkerer. This may sound strange coming from a professional software engineer, but I’ve just never been very good at it. I never took things apart as a kid. I never built my own hardware back when you could still build your own hardware. I was never any good at assembly language. In fact, specifically because I write consumer software for a living, I have fairly high expectations about the required level of polish in the final user experience of such products. Read On →

The Digital Desert Island

The other day I accidentally reset the music that I sync into my iPhone. As I result, I had to wait for a long while for iTunes to copy all the music back into the phone where I had inadvertently deleted it. As it copied track after track it occured to me that the iPod/mp3/iTunes/digital music era has made something that used to be a mainstay of lazy music writing completely irrelevant: the desert island record list. Read On →

The Camera I Want: Available

For a long time on this weblog I have opined for the camera companies to make a digital version of my beloved Konica Hexar. Well, now it’s time to put my money where my mouth is, because Fuji has done it. The new Fuji X100 is available for pre- oder today. It is an APS-C format digital Hexar with a nice small size, a nice fixed F2 lens and the promise of two things that have as yet eluded the smaller-than-huge-DSLR cameras: 1. Read On →

All the Details

A few of weeks ago in a fit of rage I lit into some Internet moron for what I thought were the following offenses: 1. Not being able to follow simple directions from Mark Bittman about how to make a simple stir fry. 2. Drastically overestimating the cost of the endeavor, being unfamiliar with the notion of “amortization”. In retrospect perhaps I was a bit unfair to the poor woman. It became clear to me that Bittman had left out a lot of important details that experienced cooks tend to take for granted. Read On →

Game Over

Uncharted 2 came out for the Playstation 3 a couple of years ago. It is a solid entry in the “large scale, high production quality action and adventure” genre that is popular with the bigger developers these days. The game does many things excellently. In fact, in many ways the game is better at what it does than any title in recent memory. Thus it is all the more confusing why the developers feel the need to prove that they hate you and want you to quit playing their game and just watch the cut scenes on You Tube. Read On →

With the Old Breed

With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by E.B. Sledge My rating: 3 of 5 stars “With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa” is E.B. Sledge’s autobiography of his role in two unspeakably bloody battles in the Pacific theater of World War II. At Peleliu alone the Marines suffered losses in excess of 10%; the Japanese on the island 11,000 strong, were annihilated to nearly a man. Many, if not most, of the most storied books about war come from one of two perspectives: from that of the officers who lead it, or from historians writing after the fact. Read On →

Post Mortem

The Patriots were unceremoniously removed from the playoff “tournament” tonight. In retrospect, it’s clear that the bye week did them no favors. They were slow, lethargic, out of sync, emotionally flat and pretty much all around soft. The situation was made worse by the fact that they also outsmarted themselves a few times, and each time it lead to being in a deeper hole. Oh well, that’s how football goes. Anyway, my purpose here is not to tediously break down everything the Pats did wrong. Read On →

10 Things to Eat In Pittsburgh Before You are Dead

The idea for this list came to me while I was at the “offal night” at Legume. I also figured it would make a good piece for the annual exercise in end of year top ten lists. Well, so much for that. My personal critieria for the items on this list was a combination of “unique to Pittsburgh”, “personal favorite”, and simply “really good food” in about equal parts. I did also try to avoid things everyone already knows about, hence the lack of an entry for Primanti’s. Read On →

Ancient Wars Game Giveaway

For those of you who prefer velites and hastati to cannons and riflemen, Paul Bruffel, developer of HPS’s Ancient Wars series of sims, is giving away copies of Punic Wars or Gallic Wars to entrants who can answer a question about ancient warfare correctly. Knowledge of their games is helpful, but not required.

The Worst Cook on the Entire Internet

The other day Mark Bittman published a short piece where he mused about three recipes that he could give you to “turn you into a cook.” I thought the piece was pretty good, and agree with its basic premise. He presents three dishes that appropriately varied could be used by anyone of reasonable ability to cook enough different kinds of food to live on. In fact, it was similar in nature to my on and off series of “dinner in half an hour” articles, although I would not be so bold as to think that I thought up this idea. Read On →

A Battle Lost Through Attrition

Hardcore operational-level computer war games have a serious problem: most of them are unplayable. Not all war games, obviously. And “unplayable” means different things to different people. A game that crashes whenever you start it up, for example, is literally unplayable. I mean something softer, here: I mean that many games which should be brilliant, which should capture the hearts and minds of every war gamer on the planet are instead consigned to a dusty corner of the market by unacceptably primitive user interfaces, obtuse mechanics, and poor communication of results. Read On →

Close Combat - The Matrix Versions

And, as the cloak of winter settles comfortably around our shoulders, my thoughts turn to the failed Nazi invasion of Russia, kicked off with Operation Barbarossa. My thoughts turn this way because I have, of late, been playing (and re- playing) some of the Matrix Games re-implementations of the classic tactical squad-level World War II games in the Close Combat series. Specifically, I’ve been playing Close Combat: Cross of Iron and Close Combat: The Longest Day. Read On →

The Defense of Duffer's Drift

The Defence of Duffer’s Drift by E. D. Swinton My rating: 4 of 5 stars The Defense of Duffer’s Drift is a fascinating little book that anyone can read in a short afternoon. Written by Capt. Ernest Dunlop Swinton around the dawn of the 20th century, it is a meditation on small unit tactics, based on experience gained in the Boer War. The most fascinating thing about the book is its insouciant tone. Read On →

The Ultimate Goto

When I was in college I was something of a programming languages hobbyist. I think all young dorks go through this phase. Programming languages are fascinating repositories of different ideas for creating abstractions for constructs that programmers find themselves building over and over again. Back in the day, one of my favorite papers was the Guy Steele title whose short form is just LAMBDA: The Ultimate GOTO. The title is fantastic because it brings together several disparate trains of thought on how programming languages work and combines them into a single statement. Read On →

Four Fish

Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food by Paul Greenberg My rating: 2 of 5 stars Paul Greenberg charts the exploitation and decline of four fish - wild salmon, European sea bass, cod, and bluefin tuna - in this thoroughly depressing work. Much of the book is spent channelling representatives from various commercial fishing operations, or alternatively from environmental groups. Some attention is paid to the question “so, if we shouldn’t eat these fish, what should we eat?“. Read On →


Dear Internet Forums: While I love you for the wonderful capacity you have for the intelligent and thoughtful exchange of useful information with others from around the world, I am wondering if you could do me one little favor. I’m wondering if y’all could simply keep track of which god-damned messages in a thread I have actually read rather than just the threads I’ve looked at since the last time you stamped a cookie on me? Read On →

Commands & Colors: Napoleonics

We’ve just finished our first playthrough of a complete round of Commands & Colors: Napoleonics, playing through the Roliça (first position) scenario. I think it’s a good time to discuss my early impressions of the game. Needless to say, some of these are preliminary in nature, and it may turn out in the fullness of time I’ll change my mind. But first impressions matter, and they matter a lot, so I want to jot these notes down while my thoughts are still fresh. Read On →

Same as it Ever Was

I have always really liked the Best American Essays series. For those of you who are not familiar with these books, every year they rope some editor into reading thousands of pieces of non-fiction from vairous periodicals that specialize in publishing such material. Then they put 20 or 25 of these pieces into a single book and put it out on the shelves so I can buy one and read it on my next long plane trip. Read On →

Crossing the Chasm

Thomas at Mile Zero recently wrote a piece called The Console Model is a Regressive Tax on Creativity. I think Thomas is wrong. Here’s my reply. Thomas, Your attempt at a conceptual leap from “There exist platforms that limit the amount of hacking that can be done” to “Those limitations are a barrier to entry for minorities” rivals Evel Knievel’s storied jump over the Snake River Canyon, and ultimately it is no more successful. Read On →

Kickstarting Andrew Plotkin

Every so often someone undertakes a project so crazy and beautiful that anything you can say will just be superfluous. That’s how I feel about Andrew Plotkin’s quest to fund the development of his new text adventure for the iPhone. Andrew, known in other circles as “Zarf”, is more than just a brilliant writer and software developer; he’s also my friend. I urge you to visit his kickstarter page here and watch the intro video. Read On →

Lords of the Sea.

Lords of the Sea: The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy and the Birth of Democracy by John R. Hale My rating: 5 of 5 stars John Hale’s “Lords of the Sea” is an in-depth history of the Athenian thalassocracy from before the Peloponnesian Wars, up until Cleitus, one of the Macedonian successors to Alexander the Great, forced Athens to accept the yoke. It is a fascinating read. Hale brings a very specific perspective to this topic: as a crew rower, he is perhaps more interested in the naval side of Athens than of any other aspect. Read On →

Why I Love to Watch Sports

A while back, my friend Kim asked if I could write a “Why I love X” article for a sports-related weblog for which she writes the occasional piece. At first this did not seem like a difficult task. After all, I have more than my share of sports-related obsessions. The Tour de France, the 1980s Celtics, the Tom Brady Patriots or the tortured teams of the Boston Red Sox. The list goes on and on. Read On →

I Shall Wear Midnight

I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett I Shall Wear Midnight is Terry Pratchett’s final book in the Tiffany Aching series. While clever, thoughtful, and well-constructed, it suffers from the same problem Pratchett has had in his other recent books: he has fallen too much in love with his characters to truly hurt them. Compared to the latent menace that suffused, for example, The Wee Free Men, we never feel here that Tiffany is at any risk that she can’t overcome through prodigious application of witch-bourne moxie. Read On →

An Open Letter to the People Who Buy Games

OK. Rant time. I have been down on video games lately. Part of the reason for this is that I’ve been busy reacquainting myself with hobbies from my past and my brain is only big enough to hold one obsession at once. Another part of the reason for this is that at least to my mind, there simply has not been anything that interesting released in the last, say, 18 months. Read On →

Hannibal: Rome and Carthage

Oh, look, a beautiful and challenging strategy game. Hannibal: Rome and Carthage is a gorgeous computer board game. Based, seemingly, on the board game Hannibal: Rome and Carthage in the Second Punic War, 219-202 B.C., Hannibal is a unique little gem of a wargame. For those who, like me, are merely amateur students of Roman history, the real Hannibal is something of a mystery. Clearly a general of legendary talents – his brilliant army-destroying trap at the Battle of Cannae alone would be enough to catapult him into the company of Alexander of Makedon, even before you think about what kind of balls it takes to march elephants over the Alps – the question in my mind has always been “Why didn’t he march on Rome? Read On →

A Telescope in the City

I never expected to get back into telescopes. While they were my first hobbyist love and contributed indirectly to my final choice of career, the time of my real interest had long passed by. It also does not help that I live in the suburbs under a semi- permanent light dome coming from Pittsburgh. So no one was more surprised than me to be sitting in my back yard last night under a beautifully clear sky, peering once again into the darkness at the faint fuzzballs. Read On →

Battlefield Academy

Inspired “by a concept devised by the BBC”, Slitherine and Matrix games’ Battlefield Academy should appeal to those of you who have been desperate for a Panzer General fix. In a world where “strategy” has become a videogame codeword for “He who clicks fastest, wins”, Slitherine is still developing turn-based games that are thoughtful, clever, and fun. The presentation of Battlefield Academy is unusual for a wargame. Set in World War II, missions are introduced by a comic-book like splash screen - think of something from a late ‘50’s era Sgt. Read On →

Vampire Saga: Pandora's Box HD

A few years ago there was a sudden proliferation of “find the hidden object” games. They were everywhere. You couldn’t turn around without encountering one. Essentially computerized versions of “Where’s Waldo?”, these games would wrap a thin veneer of story around their central mechanic. A trip to Africa! A locked-room mystery! No genre was safe. Generally speaking, this veneer was tissue thin, and this made most of them unbearable. Occasionally, though, someone can take a tired game and breathe some life into it. Read On →

Dare We Hope?

Has Fujifilm, of all people, finally made me my Digital Hexar? This new FinePix X100 certainly looks the part. Fast fixed lens: check. Fast sensor: check. Claims of fast autofocus: check. Finally, check out the freaky hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder system! Pretty nice. Overnight update: The photo blogosphere was all aglow with the news of this new machine. In particular, over at TOP you could almost feel the drool over the Internet wires. Read On →

Play Like a Pirate 2010

To celebrate “Talk Like a Pirate Day”, Telltale games this week has unveiled their Play Like a Pirate sale. Put simply: all 5 episodes of _Tales of Monkey Island (_previously reviewed by Tea Leaves, here) for a mere $4.95. This is crazy cheap. Whether you’ve got a PC or a Mac, this might be the best $5 you’ll ever spend. Sale ends when the weekend does, so get to it.

Dirty Dozen

A new store in the Dozen chain of cupcake bakeries opened near our office a couple of weeks ago. From my experience with their previous stores I could not think of a single reason to consider trying the new place. But, a few guys in the office have taken a bullet for the team. One of the intrepid explorers, who I will call “Mike” commented that the move to Craig Street seemed to have had a negative effect on the quality of the baked goods. Read On →

Football! Football! Football!

Just a friendly reminder that the best of the four major sports in America starts up tonight. While it’s completely wrong for the NFL to start on a Thursday (boo!), it’s a great thing that we can finally start ignoring all the other sports until February. Bill Simmons has even started doing his “guess the lines” game with his “Cousin” Sal. Life is good.

My Hero

The “my hero for writing something smart online” award for today goes to the noted photographer and printer Ctein, for this gem at the Online Photographer: Most photographers are lousy printers. Most always were. The difference is that in the old days you had to master a substantial skill set in craft before you could demonstrate how lousy you really were. Now anyone can simply buy a technologically superior printer for $500-$1000 and immediately demonstrate their lack of competence. Read On →

Puzzle Bots

Small is beautiful. This is especially true in videogames, where small games carry virtue that larger games don’t. Small games run on just about all hardware, and don’t require the latest overpriced monster videocard with unreliable drivers. Small games can be finished by people who work for a living. Small games have to have fun core mechanics, and thus offer more fun-per-minute. Small games have less filler and busywork. Small games are often less expensive. Read On →

Sherlock for iPhone

I have written many articles about my love, passion, enjoyment, fascination, and overall obsession with the games of Everett Kaser. Everett, who has the worst web site in the world, writes puzzle games. Many of these games are based on boolean algebra, which is enough to make them warm the cockles of any software developer’s heart. A while ago I sent Mr. Kaser mail expressing my wish to see Sherlock, or his other fine puzzle games, on the iPhone or iPad. Read On →

Monday Food Shorts

For a Monday evening, a few short thoughts on food, because I have not bothered you with this in a while. Dinner in 20 minutes redux: Ceviche Buy some of that sushi tuna from the Penn Avenue Fish store. Yes I know it’s not sustainable or whatever. Do it once a year. You need four ounces. Dice the tuna into small cubes. Put in a bowl. Add olive oil, salt, pepper, juice from 1⁄2 a lemon and a dash of soy sauce. Read On →

The Big Lie, Solved

Amateur astronomy has always suffered with one central delusion. It’s always been the case that in order to maintain a healthy enthusiasm for the hobby, you have to be able to lie to yourself under rather difficult circumstances. Let me set the scene. It’s a cold fall night and you are lucky enough to live, or at least visit, somewhere that is relatively free of the worldwide dome of light pollution. Read On →

Arsenal Cider House

I finally visited the Arsenal Cider House, and I’m thrilled that such a quirky new local winemaker is in Pittsburgh. Two thumbs up. I recommend their dryer wines and ciders, but everything is very drinky. I had my phone, so I threw together a quick interview: Saluté!

How to Buy a TV 2

The replacement TV came today. I now feel that I must quickly update a few articles that appeared a few years ago on our humble web site. In this one I surveyed various TV technologies. In this one I gave pithy advice how to to pick a TV. Things are different now. Now all you need to do is (1) pick a size and (2) buy (generally) the cheapest LCD TV that is of that size from a brand you like. Read On →

All Too Soon, Back in the Breach

My HDTV is dead. Actually, it’s more half-dead. Most of the time when you turn it on, it flashes its picture for about a second, and then gives up. Instead of 50 inches of HD splendor, you get a feeble blinking red light. Once in a while it turns on for good, and it works fine for as long as you need it to. Since the TV is out of warrantee it will cost about 25% as much as a new TV just for the guy to show up and start to see what’s wrong with it. Read On →

Mid-Life Crisis

I had an epiphany this weekend that my mid-life crisis is going to be pretty boring. I realized this while I was browsing classified ads for telescopes over at Astromart. What’s that? Why would I be thinking about a mid-life crisis while looking at telescopes? Why was I looking at telescopes at all? Well, that’s a long story. Before I became a computer dork in high school, one of my first dorky loves was astronomy. Read On →

The Haunting of Alan Wake

I just finished paying the horror-action game Alan Wake. Before I complain about the game, let that sink in for a minute: I finished the game. I hardly ever finish games. Games that irritate me usually go on the shelf and never come off. But I finished Alan Wake. So despite what follows, keep in mind that the game was good enough for me to play to completion. Which doesn’t happen that often, lately. Read On →

New drink: Spirited Away

Here’s an original recipe for a great drink. I call it the “Spirited Away.” My goal was to make something akin to a White Russian, but based on a green tea flavor instead of coffee. It’s better than I could have hoped for. First, mix a teaspoon of matcha tea powder with a couple of tablespoons of warm water. Be sure to use the most expensive matcha you can find, so as to really scandalize people who respect and honor tea. Read On →

Field of Glory - Now on Mac OS X

File under “Good news”: Slitherine’s awesome light wargame of ancients combat, Field of Glory, is now available on Mac OS X! I reviewed the game and its first expansion, Rise of Rome earlier this year. This is a nearly perfect port, so all of the kudos and criticisms you’ll find in those earlier reviews still apply. But there are a few updates since my earlier reviews that are worth mentioning. First, the game itself seems to have subsumed the expansions. Read On →

Bike Shopping

I bought a bike last month. It’s the first one I’ve bought in a long time. I bought my current blue road bike about 17 years ago when I moved back to Pittsburgh. What happened that day was that I accidentally bought the perfect bike. Having ridden it for so long, I have come to realize that without even trying, I managed to get a bike that fits perfectly, handles just the way I want, and in general is just “right.” Every once in a while I would try to convince myself to drop money on a new bike, but it would never work out because I’d just take the blue one out and it would be perfect again. Read On →